The rain beats a steady rhythm against the windowpane; the glass is chilled where Harley presses his forehead against it. It’s grey and stormy outside, and it’s also Christmas, so at least one thing is going right.
He doesn’t mean the holiday.
Christmas for Harley has kind of always been less of a reason to celebrate and more of an ordeal to survive. He barely remembers the few years before Abby was born. A quiet affair, the lights on the Christmas tree twinkling in the background. His mom in the kitchen, hot cocoa on the stove. His dad somewhere in the house, followed by the soft sound of carols on the radio. An easy, simpler time.
Things start going downhill right after that, though.
There are few things Harley is certain of. The fact that the earth is round and circles the sun. The fact that he is inexplicably and irreverently in love with Peter Parker. The fact that the tide is pulled ethereally by the moon. The fact that their father never wanted another child. Never wanted Abby. Which is a ludicrous, ridiculous thought, because Abby is what’s right in this world.
That first Christmas she was born—their last together as a family of four—sticks out in Harley’s memory with painful clarity. But that’s a memory for a different day, when the weather is a true thunderstorm rolling across the sky in dark waves and lightning forking it’s way bright and electric in between the clouds.
The weather is still fitting, of course. Harley hates December.
But this is the first Christmas in his and Peter’s new apartment. That counts for at least something.
Harley’s been trying hard to be festive. There’s tinsel wound around their dodgy staircase railing; a string of Christmas cards from their coworkers at Stark hanging along the kitchen wall; Peter’s been nonstop begging Harley to make his mom’s famous holiday cookies and Harley’s caved twice already to those brown puppy eyes. It’s already more festive than what he’s usually comfortable with.
The only thing stopping him from full blown deck-the-halls holiday fever is the Christmas tree.
The Christmas tree. It stands barren in the corner of their living room slash kitchen, tucked between the window and dangerously close to the radiator. The green pine appeared mysteriously between classes a couple of Tuesdays ago, way back at the start of the month. Harley knows it was Peter, because who else would it have been? No one else lives in this apartment with them. Harley’s just glad his boyfriend has super strength, because there was no way he was getting that up the three flights of stairs to their apartment alone.
The thing that gets Harley though—Peter hasn’t said so much as a word. Harley knows how much Christmas means to him. Christmas to Peter is the exact opposite of what it is to Harley; a time for joy, to cherish family and your loved ones. To be happy. Except he’d just stuck the tree in their apartment and just—hadn’t touched it. Hadn’t pulled the box of mis-matched and inherited decorations out from where Harley knows it’s hidden in the depths of their spare room closet. Hadn’t even acknowledged it’s existence outside of asking Harley if it was even okay to get one the week before it appeared. And that gets to Harley.
Because he remembers the night he told Peter. All about how December’s always been awful. How decorating the Christmas tree had always been a Harley-and-Daddy thing. Not Harley-and-Ma-and-Daddy but Harley-and-Daddy. His dad wrapping the fairy lights around and around until Harley got dizzy. The both of them carefully putting those blown glass ornaments on each stem. Harley on his dad’s shoulders placing the star at the very top. How that first Christmas with Abby—that first Christmas—his dad for the first time in seven years hadn’t so much as lifted a finger to help Harley, not even when he tripped over the tinsel and smashed his nose against the floor. How after his dad left, his mom didn’t know what the holidays even were anymore, and Harley was left to pick up the pieces.
So, Harley hates Christmas, and Peter loves it—Harley loves Peter—and Peter got them a Christmas tree and hasn’t touched it, so something just isn’t adding up.
Harley’s sat on their couch, his laptop poised precariously on his knees, staring at the empty tree when he hears Peter’s key turning in the door, the tell-tale catch against the floor, and finally footsteps in their entryway.
“Hey, sweet,” he calls out, when the footsteps get closer, eyes not leaving the tree. “Let’s decorate the tree.”
Peter’s voice comes from dangerously close behind him, but Harley doesn’t flinch. “You sure?”
Harley nods, once. “Certain.”
Peter hums an agreeing sound, hand dragging along the back of the couch and tangling in Harley’s hair. Harley’s eyes drop close at the first brush of a kiss across his cheek. It’s always been easy like this. Even before they were together. Peter’s the sun and Harley is helplessly drawn into his orbit. It was terrifying, at first, Harley’s always been on to keep his cards close to his chest. Closed off, even. Sure, he’s all southern hospitality and charm on the outside, but he’s never been one to let people in without a fight. Or at all, for that matter. But there’s something about Peter—maybe the way they just clicked in a way Harley’s never done with anyone else before or since that makes this decision so uncomplicated.
His boyfriend disappears into the apartment without a word. Off to get the decorations box, no doubt. Harley unfolds himself off the couch, long limbs half asleep, pins and needles shaking static through his bones. It’s probably been too long since he moved away from the window to sit down, but he loses track of time when he gets lost in his head like that.
Peter reappears from the hallway with the box—comically large for someone of his small stature to realistically be carrying—and drops it with a solid thunk beside the coffee table.
“Alright,” he says, swinging those brown eyes in Harley’s direction. “Game plan?”
Harley takes a deliberate step forward. Picks at the peeling tap closing the box until it’s tearing away from the cardboard with a loud rip. He can feel Peter watching him, as he picks up the one glass ornament he took with him from Rose Hill and spins it around in his hands.
It’s clear glass with a nativity scene painted on it in bright reds and golds. The reason why he brought it with him is purple along the side in child-like scrawl; Abby. His sister has it’s pair, the one with Harley written in bright blue. The paint is worn from near a decade of existence, but Harley’s never loved it more. He remembers Ma setting them down at the kitchen table, paints all carefully laid out, a few years after their dad left and it sits out in Harley’s mind as the Christmas where thing’s started feeling normal for the first time since that first-last Christmas forever ago.
He hopes this year that maybe—just maybe—it’ll start feeling like a holiday again.
Harley starts when Peter’s fingers close around his, the ornament trapped between them.
“You wanna hang this one first?”
This is yet another Parker tradition, Harley knows, that Peter’s giving to him. “Do you mind?”
Peter just shakes his head in wordless answer. Before he can pull away, Harley leans forward to kiss him softly, a silent thank you and I love you all in one. Peter’s eyes are the warmest, sweetest thing Harley’s seen, when he turns back from hanging the ornament on the tree, right near the top.
“C’mon, baby,” Peter says, reaching for more decorations, as the sun breaks through the clouds to spill beams of light across the room. “I’ve got you.”